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Running Head: Working Conditions 1

Working Conditions

The Britannica Online Encyclopedia defines safety as activities that seek to either

minimize or eliminate hazardous conditions that can lead to bodily injury. Safety in the

workplace is taken for granted by many potential employees, with most of them focusing on

issues regarding benefits, flexible schedules and salaries. Most people assume that safety is a

common given in employment but what they don’t realize, however, is that all jobs have the

potential of being hazardous at any given time. Taking the meat packaging industry as an

example, this industry has a great number of risks and these were highlighted by a human rights

activist movement, the Human Rights Watch, which conducted a study on meat packaging plants

in Nebraska. The plants, most of which employ immigrants, have refuted the claims by the

human rights association but support behind the activists’ report is still growing. The human

rights group cited many irregularities in the working conditions in the plants and offered a list of

recommendations, especially highlighting obligations to international treaties. This paper seeks

to analyze the Human Rights Watch recommendations with regard to work safety particularly

among immigrant workers, while taking a utilitarian and deontological perspective.

The Human Rights Watch report explicitly states that the Nebraska meat packaging

plants continue to exploit immigrant workers hence continually putting them at workplace risk.

The report’s authors describe the meat and poultry industries as fast paced and high volume

industries with systematic human rights violations embedded into it. The privately funded human

rights watch dog says that its researchers interviewed employees from meat packaging plants,

examined injury reports as well as other relevant sources such as government and academic

studies and legal proceeding during their study and found that the meat packaging firms violated
Working Conditions 2

many of their employees safety rights (Gonzales, 2005). The group’s report cited unsafe working

conditions, intimidation of employees seeking to form unions, denial of compensation to workers

injured at the workplace and the exploitation of employee immigrant status so as to ward off

complaints.

The group offered recommendations towards these issues, one among them being that

there should be new laws in place to ensure workers’ safety regardless of their immigration

status. This is an important and beneficial suggestion that seeks to resolve the issue of

exploitation of immigrant labor. Noting the extent of exploitation of immigrant workers due to

their cheap remuneration and high availability, the meat packaging companies also take

advantage of these employees immigration status and use it against them whenever complaints

arise from this section of workers. Even though many of these immigrant workers are in the US

illegally, the most important thing to note is that they too are humans entitled to the same human

rights accorded to every other US citizen, or all around the world as a matter of fact. The

exploitation of the workers’ immigration status amounts to manipulation and abuse by the meat

processing companies; this is because these companies knowingly employ the immigrants

irrespective of their legal status and enjoy lower manpower costs but in the end, they deny these

workers their rights with regard to compensation as a result of injury or other forms of

complaints, taking advantage of their illegal presence in the country.

The human rights group also recommends that there be compliance of the US labor laws

to international standards on workers’ freedom of association. This will be beneficial to the meat

plant workers, especially the immigrants who are continuously taken advantage of. Compliance

of the US labor laws to international standards will mean all the workers, including immigrants,

will have to be treated according to universally accepted standards with regard to workers’
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freedom of association. This will also be beneficial to the Nebraskan meat industry employees

since the Human Rights Watch sited employer intimidation for those workers seeking to

organize unions (Gonzales, 2005). Freedom of association is also a basic human right around the

world and thus employees’ rights to association should be respected regardless of whether

they’re legal immigrants or not.

Stronger worker compensation laws and the enforcement of anti-retaliation laws is also

another suggestion presented by the Human Rights Watch. This recommendation along with

stronger state regulation so as to halt underreporting of injuries will prove to be very beneficial to

the meat industry workers. With the human rights group having noted that the Nebraskan

workers were continuously been denied compensation for work related injuries and also noting

how meat industry employees are consistently prone to accidents, injuries and illnesses, the

enforcement of these two recommendations will provide the workers with security and a

platform to fight for their rightful compensation for work related injuries. These two

recommendations are of high significance to the slaughtering, processing and packaging of meat

since this industry’s employees are prone to cumulative trauma disorders resulting from the

repeated use of vibrating hand held knives (USDA, 1999).

The last recommendation by the Human Rights Watch was that new federal and state

laws be put in place so as to reduce production line speeds. As mentioned earlier, the meat

industry is described by the human rights activists as a fast-paced and high volume industry

which in turn compounds the potential risk of injury to the employees. The establishment of

legislation to reduce production line speeds will reduce the exposure of employees to the

injurious industry. The regulation would also reduce the risk of employees developing
Working Conditions 4

cumulative trauma disorders such as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and tenosynovitis which

are illnesses that affect the nerves and soft tissues of the upper extremity (USDA, 1999).

The Human Rights Watch recommendations with regard to the work safety in the meat

industry will be beneficial to the industry’s workers and will especially provide immigrant

workers with a platform to voice their complaints as well as protect them from exploitation

especially abuse surrounding their immigration status. Should the government take the

suggestions into consideration, it will have fulfilled part of its greater obligation to support and

protect the country’s labor force.

References

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (1999). Advanced Meat Recovery Systems:

An economic analysis of proposed USDA Regulations.

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OPPDE/rdad/FRPubs/98-

027R/WorkerSafetyIssuesRelatedtoAMR.pdf retrieved on April 9th, 2011.

Gonzales, C. (2005). Meat industry officials dismiss Human Rights Watch report

recommendations.

http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?

index=1&did=784462621&SrchMode=1&sid=8&Fmt=3&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=

309&VName=PQD&TS=1236292621&clientId=29440 retrieved on April 9th, 2011.

United States Department of Labor. (2010). Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/meatpacking/index.html retrieved on April

9th, 2011.